Wales need evolution on the pitch despite World Cup successes off it | Wales

At the outset Gareth Bale said Wales’s first World Cup since 1958 was about more than football and to that end at least they probably delivered. “Hopefully in the future when you speak to people from other countries they won’t ask where Wales is,” he said.

After leading Wales out of the tunnel to face England on Tuesday, he sipped on some water, chucked his bottle down towards the throng of photographers snapping away furiously pitchside and proceeded to rattle through the pre-match formalities. Lopsided team photograph. Another with match officials. Handshake with the referee. Lock hands with Harry Kane. Hand Kane a pennant stitched in Welsh. And – hang on a minute – give Kane a tricolour bucket hat.

On the eve of their Group B opener against the USA, Ben Davies made a slice of World Cup history by conducting a press conference entirely in Cymraeg, Welsh. For their second game, against Iran, teachers at Aaron Ramsey’s old school, Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni in Caerphilly, scrapped the timetable so that children – one wearing a Wales shirt with the words Yma o Hyd, Dafydd Iwan’s rousing anthem, the title of which has become a motto for many – could watch the game together.

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This is a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

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Welsh tattoo parlours have reported an influx of Yma o Hyd requests. Carlos Querioz, the Iran head coach, made a point of praising the Red Wall, part of a charm offensive that perhaps influenced Wales’s loyal fan base when applauding Iran’s players on their post-match victory lap.

Job done? The reason for pointing out all of this is that Wales games have grown organically into something more than fans supporting 11 players trying to do a goal, into a showcase of national pride and cultural heritage guaranteed to warm the soul regardless of the result.

The bucket hat, for example, has become synonymous with Wales fans, to the point where on match days it is easier to spot those not wearing one. In recent months the Football Association of Wales put 10ft bucket hat art installations in Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff, Swansea and Wrexham to celebrate their place on the biggest stage on a platform decorated with the words Cymru ar ben y byd, Wales on top of the world. Another giant bucket hat was launched on Doha’s waterfront, ironically the day before fans had rainbow-coloured bucket hats confiscated at the Ahmad bin Ali stadium.

Giving a red, yellow and green bucket hat to England’s captain, Tyler Adams and Ehsan Hajsafi does not mask what has been a deeply disappointing tournament on the pitch, one place where Wales certainly failed to make a lasting mark. “Welcome to the big show,” was Querioz’s warm introductory message before the two nations met, but Wales got stage fright and went missing.

Wales head home to Cardiff with one point and one goal to their name. “Everyone looked at the group and thought: ‘Maybe they’ll do this or that’ but we played against three very good teams,” said the defender Connor Roberts. “I know England blew Iran away, but they are no mugs and they showed that against us.”

Rob Page said the frustration really rankles because his team did not show their true colours. But maybe this is just where Wales are at now, the leading lights of the team dimmed. Ever since taking the reins, at first on a temporary basis and then permanently, signing a four-year contract in September, Page has spoken of key players regularly turning up for duty undercooked. Bale and Ramsey moved to California and the south of France respectively, effectively to prepare for this tournament, but the cautious optimism now looks misplaced.

Page will review his options between now and March, when Wales begin their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign in Croatia. By the time that tournament comes around, Bale will be touching 35, Joe Allen 34 and Ramsey 33. There is unlikely to be great change but Wales must evolve. Joe Rodon, Neco Williams and Brennan Johnson, will surely be given responsibility. The same goes for Ethan Ampadu who at the age of 22 has amassed 40 caps, as many as John Toshack and more than John Charles. Ampadu headed down the tunnel in tears at full-time on Tuesday.

Ethan Ampadu on the ball for Wales against England.
Ethan Ampadu on the ball against England – the Chelsea player currently on loan at Spezia will be central to Wales’s future plans. Photograph: Markus Gilliar/GES Sportfoto/Getty Images

“We’ll have a look at the squad and if there are young players out there that we need to push and promote, now’s the time to do it,” Page said after the 3-0 evisceration by England.

One of those will surely be the 17-year-old Luke Harris, a precocious talent viewed by Page as “the future of Welsh football” who signed a professional contract with Fulham in September, a month before making his Premier League debut. The Jersey-born No 10 was spotted aged 14 at a tournament on Guernsey by Malcolm Elias, Fulham’s chief academy scout who was influential in the development of Bale and Luke Shaw.

Bale has been at pains to provide some perspective in recent days, and rightly so. Aside from the hosts, Wales, with a population of three million, were the smallest nation in Qatar. Many supporters were resigned to never seeing Wales on the biggest stage. In 2011, they were 117th in the Fifa rankings, sandwiched between Haiti and Grenada.

Perhaps gripes about Wales’s failure to lay a glove on three top-20 ranked opponents and reach the knockout stage at a World Cup can wait. “It’s a little bit disappointing, but for a lot of the players – myself included – I am ecstatic to be able to say that I represented my country at a World Cup,” Roberts said. The feeling of pride is mutual.

No reason Wales can’t spring World Cup shock against England, says Bale | World Cup 2022

“The dragon on my shirt, that’s all I need,” Gareth Bale said, looking down at the Wales crest on his red polo shirt, swaying on a swivel chair in Dinard with a little abandon before their quarter-final victory over Belgium at Euro 2016. That statement feels as though it will soon be put to the test.

As the sun set in Doha on Monday, morphing into the marshmallow skies, Bale was again holding court, repeatedly checking his watch as the questions flowed. He knew it was only a matter of time before he was asked whether Wales’s game against England on Tuesday could be his last for his country? “Nope,” Bale snapped back, arms folded. Well, that’s that – for now at least.

Not all questions were so predictable. Among the others was: how was the rack of Welsh lamb? On Sunday the celebrity chef Bryn Williams brought Welsh cakes and cooked dinner, fit with mint sauce and caper dressing, at the team hotel in West Bay. “Hopefully it gives us a better performance – we would love nothing more,” Bale said with a spoonful of perspective.

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This is a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

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“We are trying to keep our spirits high. We have to remember we are at a World Cup, for the first time in a long time. We would rather be at a World Cup maybe not doing amazingly well than sat at home on the sofa not doing anything. We are happy to be here and we are going to give everything we can to try to qualify.”

Six years ago Bale, whose career is winding down in the US, could do no wrong, a superpower grazing and grinning his way through Wales’s extraordinary ride to the semi-finals. He infamously served up a home run for anyone with even a millilitre of Welsh blood, insisting Wales had more passion than England.

“I feel we are the most passionate country in the world and that will never change in my mind,” Bale maintained the day before Wales flew to Qatar. But suddenly he – together with Aaron Ramsey – finds himself on the sharp end of the flak thrown Wales’s way following a miserable start to their first World Cup in 64 years.

A dejected Neco Williams and Gareth Bale sit on the turf after Wales’s dramatic, devastating defeat to Iran.
A dejected Neco Williams and Gareth Bale sit on the turf after Wales’s dramatic, devastating defeat to Iran. Photograph: Javier García/Shutterstock

Perhaps the difficulty is that we have come to expect so much more. It has led Bale into a strange and somewhat awkward spot where the player who is probably Wales’s finest of all time feels it necessary to justify his workrate amid the clamour, in places, for him to be dropped so he can hand the baton on to a younger model.

“I was flying into tackles in the 95th minute the other day,” he said. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I have a good game, sometimes I don’t. It’s football; it’s difficult to always play well. The one thing I always do is give 100%..”

Rob Page, the Wales manager, gave credence to the possibility of Bale and Ramsey being among the substitutes at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium. “It’s a big ask for anybody in this environment to go four days later from one competitive game to another,” Page said.

“They are talented footballers. OK, we’re all getting a bit of criticism right now, and rightly so because results ain’t going our way and [because of] our performances. That’s the industry. We’re big enough to take it – it’s not a problem. We’ll put our big-boy pants on and get on with it. We’ll have a team that’s ready for England.”

Bale knows England are not infallible. “Everyone has weaknesses,” the Wales captain said. “We’ve done our homework. We’ve had meetings and I’m sure they’ve done the same with us. England are a very good team. They are one of the favourites to win the tournament. We are under no illusions that it will be hard. There’s been a few shocks in the tournament already and there’s no reason why we can’t do the same.”

In the summer Bale insisted there were a few more years left in the legs and that he wants to help Wales reach another European Championship, for which qualifying begins in March. He signed a 12-month contract with Los Angeles FC that runs until June with the scope to extend until 2024. But for a while it has been impossible to escape the sense that Bale is making it up as he goes along, playing minutes and scoring wonder-goals on his terms, orbiting his own star.

Since the qualifying for this competition began 18 months ago, Wales have unashamedly been his primary focus. So would exiting the World Cup give Bale a decision to make? “I will play for Wales until the day I stop playing football,” the 33-year-old said last year. “I love playing for Wales.”

Wales will fly home to Cardiff unless they can beat England for the first time since 1984, and even then that might not be enough. Technically, qualifying for the last 16 is in their own hands but unless they spank England by a four-goal margin, to progress they need a win and Iran and the USA to play out a draw.

“We don’t get divided by a bad team performance or result,” Bale said, alluding to Wales’s Together Stronger slogan that has stuck since Euro 2016. “We stick together because we are stronger as a group.” Regardless of how Tuesday unfolds, Bale deserves a dignified exit.

‘Incredible players’: Allen defends Bale and Ramsey from World Cup criticism | Wales

Joe Allen has defended Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey amid criticism that the Wales pair have failed to deliver at the World Cup.

Bale and Ramsey have led Wales’s “Golden Generation” to dizzy heights over the past decade. Wales have reached a first World Cup for 64 years on the back of qualification for two European Championships, the first of which, Euro 2016, saw them exceed all expectations by reaching the semi-finals.

But Bale, 33, and Ramsey, 31, have struggled to make an impact at Qatar 2022 and Wales are on the verge of a swift World Cup exit. “They’re two incredible players, they are and they have been for our country,” Allen said ahead of Tuesday’s final group game against England in Doha. “I don’t think there’s anyone else in the squad who’s reached the heights they’re capable of.

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Qatar: beyond the football


This is a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

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“It’s a huge game coming up, they’re big-game players and always have been. Hopefully, if any criticism has come their way then they’ll be able to answer a few of those critics with a top performance.”

Wales are clinging on to slim hopes of making the last 16 after picking up only one point from games against the USA and Iran. Friday’s 2-0 defeat to the latter has left them needing to beat England, something they have not done for 38 years, and hope for a favourable result when Iran take on the USA. Any other result than a draw in that game would lead to Wales’s elimination, unless they were to beat England by a four-goal margin.

Allen said: “It [qualification] is not impossible, no. It’s a tough task. It’s always uncomfortable when it’s not in your hands and you’re relying on certain things to unfold. But while there’s still a chance it’s really simple for us. We’re fully motivated, fully incentivised into throwing absolutely everything into getting the win. Then, who knows? Hopefully, there’s a chance we can still get out of this group.”

Joe Allen kneels on the turf after Roozbeh Cheshmi’s goal against Wales
Joe Allen kneels on the turf after Roozbeh Cheshmi’s goal against Wales. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA

Allen, who re-signed for boyhood club Swansea in the summer, returned from two months out with a hamstring injury to come on as a substitute against Iran and win his 73rd cap. He said: “I’ve mixed feelings in terms of the pride of playing for my country in a World Cup, but a very disappointing performance and result. I’m good to go [against England].

“It’s not been a fair reflection of what we’re capable of. That’s been a real disappointment because we can offer so much more, and we will certainly have to do that in the next game.”

Gareth Bale ready to seize moment as Wales’s World Cup ‘dream’ kicks off | World Cup 2002

He is the boy from Whitchurch, north Cardiff, about to lead Wales on the world stage. Gareth Bale’s first World Cup memories are a little hazy – probably France 98, he says – not helped by the sustained absence of his country and a team to truly get behind. But a moment that perhaps seemed as though it would elude a glittering, superstar career stacked with honours and individual accolades is finally here. Towards one end of the Corniche, Doha’s opulent waterfront, an industrial-sized image of Bale, plastered on to the facade of a sparkling skyscraper, glistens above the city.

Bale remains a big deal, a commercial entity in his own right, but the fire in him to prove he can still do the business on the pitch burns brightly. Recent evidence has already suggested as much: a fortnight ago he scored an 128th-minute leaping header to help Los Angeles FC lift the MLS Cup. For Wales to be able to lean on their captain, a player who has a handy habit of calmly rising to the occasion, is something of a priceless commodity at their first World Cup finals for 64 years. Bale and his teammates are determined to enjoy however long this latest ride lasts.

The past six years have brought Wales three major tournaments, including that unforgettable and mesmeric run to the semi-finals at Euro 2016, which Bale began with a darting free-kick against Slovakia in Bordeaux. For the younger generation of fans, Wales’ recent success may have blurred the lines. “They don’t realise how spoiled they are,” Bale says. That endearing, goofy grin follows.

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Qatar: beyond the football


This is a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

Guardian reporting goes far beyond what happens on the pitch. Support our investigative journalism today.

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After all, it has not always been this way. “Watching Brazil and Argentina and those big teams play and now to be in that tournament is quite a cool feeling to have, especially as growing up there was not a Wales side [at a World Cup],” he says. “For the kids now to be able to have Wales, being able to watch them and have the poster up on the wall to mark out each game will be incredible.”

Bale, not for the first time, will go where others have failed. When the goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey, Bale’s best friend in the squad and, like him, a fellow Wales centurion, recently told of his pride at representing his country at a World Cup, he almost sounded a touch embarrassed at doing so knowing his idol, Neville Southall, never made it this far. The same applies to Ian Rush, whose goalscoring record Bale broke four years ago, Ryan Giggs, Gary Speed, Mark Hughes and John Toshack, who handed a 16-year-old Bale, then a fizzy left-back on the books of Southampton, his senior debut in 2006.

A giant poster of Gareth Bale hangs from a skyscraper in Doha
A giant poster of Gareth Bale hangs from a skyscraper in Doha. Photograph: ANP/Alamy

The magnitude of wearing the dragon on his chest – as well as at least two armbands, only one of which is endorsed by Fifa – at a finals is not lost on Bale. “It is a very proud moment. Not only for us as players but the whole nation. Every time there has been a failure it has been ‘we want to get over the line eventually’ and the longer time went on it became an even bigger task, I guess. To be the ones to achieve it has been incredible and something we have all dreamed of since we were young – it is crazy now that the tournament is upon us and we are just going to try to enjoy it.”

Rob Page, the Wales manager, insists the team are not as reliant on Bale as they once were and that is a sentiment shared by the midfielder Jonny Williams, who made his international debut in 2013 when he replaced Bale as a substitute. Williams, who would have been lining up for a Swindon Town side that lost at home to Crewe in the fourth tier on Saturday had he not been here, is actually Wales’s leading goalscorer at club level this season, not that he has been ribbing Bale about that fact. “I couldn’t do that,” he says, typically modestly. “They’ll just say ‘it’s in League Two’ so I’ll get there first and say it myself.”

How has Bale evolved over the years? “Into a real leader of the team and a leader of men,” Williams says. “There is no ego or big-time [nature]: ‘I am not going to do this’. He just treats everyone with respect. He makes people feel a part of something. I have played in changing rooms where that has not necessarily been the case – and that is with players that are of a lot less ability than Gareth.” Williams breaks into a smile. “Fair play, and credit to him and his parents.”

Bale had a quick, understated word with Luke Harris and Jordan James to instantly put the teenage pair at ease on their first Wales camp at their team base in Hensol in September. It was a similar story with Sorba Thomas earlier this year. “I said to Sorba: ‘Have you met Gareth before?’” Page says. “He said: ‘Well, only playing Fifa on PlayStation.’ The next thing he’s sat having dinner with him and I watched Sorba and he was looking up in awe of his hero who is standing above him and talking to him on a level. But Gareth’s got a knack of doing that, he just makes people feel at ease.”

Gareth Bale

The thing that has not changed with Bale is the gaze that follows him. “He just lights the room up just with his presence, with him just being there,” Page says. “I used to liken it to club management when you’re writing the team sheet down and you want the best players on the team sheet because you know the impact it’s going to have on the opposing manager. Gareth’s goals have taken us to the World Cup … but without what everybody else has done on that pitch, doing the hard yards, the graft, to get opportunities and give him the chance to put a free-kick in, it doesn’t happen. It’s a massive team effort.”

For Bale, this is his final guaranteed appearance on the biggest stage and almost certainly his last at a World Cup. Depending on how Wales fare in Group B, he could bow out in nine days’ time against England, of all teams. It is too early to say how this will play out but Wales, despite the strides they have taken in recent years, will still undoubtedly look to Bale for inspiration. “He has been doing it for years and is still massively capable even at his age,” Williams says. “He is 33 now, scoring huge goals in America and having big moments for us, in the [World Cup playoff] semi-final [against Austria, in which he scored twice]. We still look to him as the main man.”

Gareth Bale ready to play ‘three 90s’ for Wales at World Cup despite fitness fears | World Cup 2022

Gareth Bale has insisted he would have “no problem” completing all three of Wales’s Group B games in the space of nine days at the World Cup and said he recognised the importance of wearing the OneLove captain’s armband to shine a light on discrimination in Qatar.

The Wales captain scored a heroic stoppage-time equaliser to help Los Angeles FC win the Major League Soccer Cup but is yet to play a full match for his club. Wales face the USA next Monday before games against Iran and England but Bale has assuaged concerns over his fitness. “I’m fully fit and ready to go,” said the 33-year-old. “If I need to play three 90 minutes, I’ll play three 90s.” Bale has played only 28 minutes since the end of September. He last played a full match against Poland on 25 September and before that against Austria on 24 March.

Qatar has been the subject of criticism for its stance on same-sex relationships, which are illegal in the country, and by Amnesty International for its human rights record and treatment of migrant workers. Bale acknowledged that footballers could “shed a light on the problems there going on” and the Nice midfielder Aaron Ramsey said Wales “disagree with a lot of things going on over there”.

The Rainbow Wall, a Welsh LGBTQ+ fan group, has said it will not travel to the country’s first World Cup for 64 years owing to safety concerns. “For us as players, we’re fully behind and support everything we can do,” Bale said. “Us as footballers, the most we can do is raise awareness and it’s for people higher up to make those decisions and hopefully make change for the better. We support everything, in terms of the armband we’ll be doing everything and doing as much as we can to hopefully get change in the right way.”

Ramsey touched on how the Football Association of Wales had liaised with the Welsh government and Fifa over the issues. “The FAW has been working closely with the government, Fifa and Qatar to try and move things forward,” Ramsey said. “As players, we’ll be wearing that armband and showing our support, and hopefully highlighting other issues over there. But ultimately we’re there to play football and to represent our country at a World Cup.”

Wales fly to Qatar from Cardiff on Tuesday. “I feel good in myself and I’m really looking forward to being out there and representing my country on the big stage,” Ramsey said. “You can feel the buzz around the place – every Welsh person is buzzing at the moment. Hopefully we can go out there and give a good account of ourselves.”

MLS Cup 2022: LAFC edge Philadelphia on pens after Bale’s 128th-minute goal | MLS

A reserve goalkeeper entering just his third Major League Soccer match of the season enabled the Los Angeles Football Club to win the MLS Cup.

Jack McCarthy stopped two penalty kicks as LAFC defeated the Philadelphia Union on penalties, 3-0, after playing to a 3-3 draw after 120 minutes in front of 22,384 at the Banc of California Stadium.

McCarthy, who entered the game in the 117th minute when starter Maxime Crepeau received a red card, stopped two of the Union’s three spot kicks. McCarthy dived to his right to deny Jose Martinez, then dived to his left to deflect Kai Wagner’s attempt.

As a result of his unexpected efforts, McCarthy was voted the game’s most valuable player.

Daniel Gazdag, the first of Philadelphia’s penalty takers, launched his shot high over the crossbar. Gazdag tied for second among league scorers during the regular season with 22 goals.

Denis Bouanga, Ryan Hollingshead and Ilie Sanchez converted for Los Angeles, with Sanchez’s shot bouncing under diving goalkeeper Andre Blake to give his club the championship.

Crepeau was expelled in the 117th minute after tripping the Union’s Cory Burke on a breakaway. Crepeau charged off his line and tripped Burke while out of the penalty area. Both players went sprawling, and Crepeau had to leave the field on a motorized card. But while leaving, the Canadian international gave a “thumbs up” sign to the home fans.

The Union rallied from a 2-1 deficit to take a 3-2 lead in the 124th minute. Wagner sent a cross from the right wing that hit Sanchez near the goal line. McCarthy deflected the ball but Jack Elliott scored from two yards.

But four minutes later, Wales international Gareth Bale tied the score. Bale, who replaced Carlos Vela in the 97th minute, converted a seven-yard header off Diego Palacios’ right-wing cross.

LAFC used Kellyn Acosta’s 26-yard free kick in the 28th minute to move ahead, 1-0. After the Union’s Jose Martinez fouled Cristian Arango, Acosta’s free kick ricocheted off the head of Philadelphia’s Jack McGlynn, who leapt with the defensive wall. Blake, playing the expected angle, found himself out of position as the ball trickled between him and the left post.

After the goal, Martinez used his jersey to hide the bottom half of his face.

McGlynn started for midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, the Union’s captain. Bedoya injured his hip flexor on 17 September against Atlanta and missed three of the ensuing five matches, including the final and the 20 October playoff match against FC Cincinnati.

Gazdag tied the score in the 59th minute. Wagner began the scoring sequence with a left-wing corner kick that LAFC’s Jesus Murillo headed away. But Philadelphia’s Olivier Mbaizo secured the ball at midfield and passed to Martinez, who found an unmarked Gazdag in the penalty area. Gazdag beat his marker and converted a rising 11-yard shot that settled under the crossbar.

LAFC regained a 2-1 lead in the 83rd minute. Vela’s corner kick from the right wing found Jesus Murillo, whose glancing header from just outside right side of the goalkeeper’s crease settled inside the far post. But two minutes later, the visitors again tied the score. Wagner sent his 38-yard free kick from the right wing to Elliott, whose 10-yard header beat Crepeau.

Gareth Bale has been little more than a guest star in his MLS career so far | Gareth Bale

Less than 20 minutes into only his second Major League Soccer game, Gareth Bale scored a goal that could have served as a mission statement. Introduced off the bench with Los Angeles FC already 1-0 up against Sporting KC, the Welsh winger, who needs game time to find his best form before the 2022 World Cup, produced a performance that grew sharper with every minute and culminated in a quick transition strike to kill the game at 2-0.

Another typical Bale goal quickly followed in a 4-1 win over Real Salt Lake in which the 33-year-old strode past two opponents at the byline to fire home from a tight angle. Two goals in three appearances off the bench represented a good start to his MLS career, but Bale has struggled to build on this. In fact, he hasn’t scored another goal in the two months since his strike at Rio Tinto Stadium.

In fact, Bale hasn’t even completed a full MLS match, and has started just two of the 12 games he has featured in for LAFC since joining from Real Madrid in June. Steve Cherundolo’s team clinched the Supporters’ Shield with victory over the Portland Timbers on Sunday and will be among the favourites to win this year’s MLS Cup with the playoffs set to start later this month, but Bale has hardly had a hand in their success.

The measure of Bale’s time at LAFC was always likely to be different. As long as he arrives in Qatar for the World Cup in good shape, he will consider his decision to make the move to MLS vindicated. Bale once infamously waved a flag that read “Wales, golf, Madrid – in that order,” and his club might still be at the bottom of the list.

“We have a plan in LA with what we’re doing,” Bale recently said when asked to assess his own impact in MLS. “We’re not doing too much straight away. Every footballer wants to play as much as they can, but we’re being clever and building myself up for the last important part of the season. Hopefully that should put me in great shape for the World Cup. I think I’ll be a lot fitter.”

Wales manager Robert Page’s comments hinted at underlying dissatisfaction at his best player’s situation. “What he does from now until the first game [of the World Cup] against USA … we will be in contact with the club and help manage those minutes,” Page said after bemoaning not being able to use Bale across all 180 minutes against Belgium and Poland in the Nations League due to his lack of fitness.

Page knows Bale can be a difference-maker for Wales in Qatar. He is the country’s all-time top scorer (40 goals in 108 caps) and the player who secured World Cup qualification in the first place, scoring three goals in the playoff semi-finals and final. At his best, Bale can win a match on his own. For Wales, his fitness could be the difference between a last 16 appearance and a group stage exit.

LAFC may not have much incentive to increase Bale’s game time before he heads to Qatar. This may seem somewhat peculiar given the Welshman’s individual quality and record at the elite level of European soccer, but Cherundolo has a system that already works well without Bale and with the playoffs almost here there isn’t much scope for experimentation between now and November.

Many argued Bale’s move to MLS would afford him more freedom to gain fitness and match sharpness than would have been the case in the Premier League or another of Europe’s ‘Big Five’ leagues. However, MLS’s relative parity makes rotation difficult, even for a team like LAFC who appeared a good bet to make the playoffs from early on.

On top of this, MLS’s travel schedule makes the season a gruelling one. In Spain, Bale’s longest away day involved an hour or two on a chartered plane. In the Premier League, most away matches can be reached on a bus. In MLS, though, Bale is regularly travelling across multiple time zones, sometimes on commercial flights.

It may not be until the World Cup is out of the way that MLS sees the best of Bale. Only then will the winger be able to clear his mind and fully commit to life at LAFC with a full pre-season ahead of him to get ready for the 2023 campaign. Even then, Bale could struggle to build momentum as he is only contracted until next summer. A decision on his long-term future will have to be made.

There have been glimpses of brilliance from Bale in MLS, which will have offered encouragement to Page and Wales. At 33, he has lost some of the pace that made him so explosive earlier in his career, but the ability remains. Once Bale has finished making sure Wales can unlock that ability at the World Cup, he may get round to doing the same for LAFC in MLS.